THE new normal?
Let’s not get carried away, but something is happening in these Liverpool matches. Something interesting (at least for us). Something we haven’t seen.
The better side is mostly on top. There are squalls but they are mostly on top. A couple of chances for the better side to go ahead are missed. Then a moment of quality. A goal. Then another moment of quality. Another goal. Then complete control before another goal. There is practically no threat from the poorer side.
This is how a lot of football works and has worked for years. It’s what our rivals have done a lot of. It’s something we’ve done very little of this decade. When Liverpool have been good they have been very good indeed. And when they have been bad they have been horrid.
That’s the core of this display. What gets presented as routine in tomorrow’s papers has been anything but in this neck of the woods. All over the pitch Liverpool were superior. It was a team display, a performance where everyone gave their seven or eight out of 10 showing but without anyone quite hitting the heights that may have seen Southampton hit for six.
There is something more; Liverpool have the game all but won at half time and actually won when Philippe Coutinho converts the rebound midway through the second half. That goal meant the substitutes could begin and that the intensity could drop. It’s important that we could do that.
For all the talk around strength in depth the best way to keep players as close as we can to 100 per cent is to have them not need to give 100 per cent all of the time. Liverpool were interested in a fourth but not ablaze for one. That goal has been saved for challenges to come, for games when you do need to always be at it. That could be Tuesday. If not, I guarantee you it will be next Saturday. Liverpool have banked something along with the three points.
Mohamed Salah is our new hero. Liverpool’s new number nine. Two lovely finishes mean he now has 13 goals to his name and advent calendars remain resolutely closed. It’s a prodigious return and as a footballer he glistens with numbers. He rarely gilds the lily, he just does the decent thing at an indecent rate.
Coutinho does gild the lily and he does so wonderfully. His second half shimmy and finish deserved to nestle but he didn’t have much longer to wait. The best thing about his goal is that he was there, an attacking midfielder not a wide forward, following a Liverpool attack in.
That deeper role gives him grass to pass through or caper across, the ball his, his balance sumptuous. He can carry it 60 yards. He can pass it 60 yards. And he has worked himself the grace to mostly do which is right. He’s such an asset deeper that it should probably become his home whatever is happening ahead of him. He could well be the best deep-lying number 10 in the world with a run.
He’ll never be a Liverpool seven. Few can be. But currently that role belongs to his compatriot at the moment. The work rate of Roberto Firmino and ability to use his body, win the ball back and bring Liverpool’s attacking football into a fourth dimension. He feels the pace of a game and his opponents like few footballers.
Sadio Mane was quietly effective. Sound that.
Dejan Lovren got through his return with one excellent block early in the second half his high point. He suits the right a tiny bit more I think but let’s see him have the next few in his back pocket. Him leaving one on Virgil van Dijk probably pleased him, the Saints supporters seeing their past clatter into Liverpool’s future.
Both full backs impressed. Alberto Moreno should do better when in but it was glorious to see him there. He scores soon for Liverpool and his explosion of joy will be a sight to behold.
This thing of ours theoretically so often used to be like this. Sides put to the sword at our pace. It can be again and again. Only Burnley have scored a league goal past Liverpool at Anfield and they are seemingly going to score against everyone this year. Whisper it but the new normal may be the old normal. Fortress Anfield. Let’s make a racket to buttress it next Saturday evening. Let’s keep going to town in every sense.
Much love. It’s fab to be back in the swing. One down, 12 to go till 2018.